• Overall, the most common offenses leading to football-related arrests at English Premier League matches since 2014 were public disorder (30.7%), violent disorder (16.6%), and alcohol offenses/DWI (16.6%).
• Leeds United fans have been arrested the most for football-related offenses – 305 arrests in total.
• 65% of English Premier League fans claimed to be not at all or only slightly tolerant of unruly behavior at soccer matches.
Few things are as inherently English as a football match. Sure, there’s the classic breakfast fry up or tea with a side of biscuits, but given the sheer number of hours the average Brit spends watching sports in their lifetime, it’s safe to suggest Premier League matches are on the list too.
When it comes to football, games can get rowdy. In fact, rowdiness is so much a part of the experience that football hooliganism in the UK has its own Wikipedia page with incidents dating as far back as 1960. In present times, you only have to look at the Euro 2020 finals, played at Wembley Stadium in 2021, for a prime example of just how out of hand things can get – including instances of fans breaking into the stadium, storming the pitch, and fighting in the streets.
So just how unruly do Premier League fans get, and which clubs are the worst offenders? To find out, we analyzed UK government data on football-related arrests since 2014, including the nature of the offense and where it occurred. Read on as we explore which Premier League fans are most notorious for letting things get out of hand; whether home or away fans are rowdier; and which crimes are most often associated with which clubs’ fan bases.
British football has a long history with hooliganism, with troubling behaviors ranging from getting a little rowdy at matches, to serious violent or racist attacks. And while arrests and banning orders have previously been on the decline, they’re on the rise again.
The 2014/2015 Premier League season saw 580 football-related arrests and 166 banning orders, followed by a steady annual decline until the 2017/2018 season, when 288 arrests and 95 banning orders were recorded. Unfortunately, arrest numbers rose once more during the 2018/2019 season to 304 and again during the 2019/2020 season to 328.
While away fans were previously more likely to be arrested after a match than home fans, the 2019/2020 season saw the reversal of this trend. The latest dataset shows that 54% of football-related arrests were of home fans, while 45% were of away fans. But what were they being arrested for? Over the course of all six seasons studied, the most common offense was public disorder (31%), followed by violent disorder (17%), alcohol offenses or driving while intoxicated (17%), and pitch incursions (10%). In 2020, Manchester United fans staged a pitch invasion as a form of protest. Despite this, pitch incursion arrests fell to just 4.3% during the 2019/2020 season, while public and violent disorders rose to five-year highs.
Clubs With the Most Unruly Fans
When it comes to hooligan football fans, which club takes the cake as the rowdiest?
In terms of the highest number of football-related arrests, Leeds United had the most badly behaved fans, with 305 arrests in total since 2014. During the 2019/2020 season, 52 Leeds United fans were charged with football-related offenses, equal to the total number of the second-and third-most unruly clubs combined (Manchester United and Aston Villa, with 21 and 31 arrests for this season, respectively).
Following these top three contenders for the unruliest fans, West Ham United (224), Manchester City (224), Sheffield United (216), and the Wolverhampton Wanderers (186) have had the highest number of football-related arrests since 2014.
English Football League With the Most Arrests
Sure, the Premier League is unruly, but are they the most unruly league in English football? Turns out, they might not be.
Based on data averages since 2014, Premier League games see an annual attendance of 13.6 million people and 2.8 arrests for every 100,000 people in attendance. In contrast, the EFL (English Football League) Championship has approximately 10.4 million people in attendance each year with 4.3 arrests for every 100,000 people.
So which leagues draw the rowdiest crowds and inspire the most violence? Since the 2014/2015 season, the Football League Trophy has seen eight arrests, on average, for every 100,000 fans in attendance, followed by League Two (6.3 arrests) and the FA Cup (5.7).
During the 2019/2020 season specifically, League One saw an average of nearly five arrests for every 100,000 fans in attendance, with an average of 4.25 million people attending matches each year. In 2017, the League One final played at Wembley Stadium resulted in a massive brawl where rival groups were using traffic signs and cones as weapons, and police appeared unable to subdue the crowds. The final whistle of the game triggered a pitch invasion by the winning club’s fans.
Crossing the Line
Leeds United fans might be the most likely to get arrested after a match, at least since the 2014/2015 season, but fans from other clubs took the lead in terms of arrest numbers for more serious offenses.
In fact, 15% of all Leeds fans who were arrested were detained as a result of pitch incursions. In contrast, more than half of West Bromwich Albion fan arrests were the result of public disorder – the same cause behind 49% of Southampton fan arrests and 43% of Fulham fan arrests.
Twenty-six percent of Tottenham Hotspur fan arrests were for violent disorder, while the fans most likely to be arrested for alcohol-related offenses were Liverpool (30%), Leeds United (28%), and Fulham (28%). Racism, including discriminatory chants and slurs being directed at players, has been on the rise across the Premier League, resulting in permanent bans and, more recently, arrests for perpetrators. Clubs most likely to have fans arrested for racism or indecent chanting include Manchester City (4%), the Wolverhampton Wanderers (3%), and Leicester City (2%).
How Fans Feel About Unruly Behavior
To some degree, hooliganism is an intrinsic part of English football culture. But how do football fans categorize hooliganism, and how many support it?
When asked what they believed was genuinely unruly behavior, 75% of English Premier League fans labeled shouting racist, homophobic, or misogynistic remarks as the worst offense. Similarly, fans considered getting violent with other fans (63%), spitting on players (35%), and throwing items on the field (30%) to be unruly behavior. Just 24% thought spitting on the opposing team’s fans was unruly. Perhaps a catalyst for some of the rowdier actions, the average football fan reported drinking between one and two alcoholic beverages per game attended, with over 7% consuming more than five drinks per match. Nevertheless, a surprising 38% of fans said they didn’t drink at all when watching a game.
Manchester United fans were perceived to be the most unruly by our survey takers (44%), followed by the fan bases for Liverpool (42%), Chelsea (33%), and Arsenal (28%). Manchester United fans were also the least likely to report being put off by rowdy behavior, with nearly 11% saying they were extremely or very tolerant of unruly shenanigans at a match.
Defining Football Culture
Hooliganism is part of English football and possibly even a defining component of the culture if fans’ opinions on the matter are to be believed. What actually constitutes as bad behavior is a matter of debate, with the actions most likely to be called out including racist, homophobic, or misogynistic remarks, followed by getting violent with other fans. Additionally, fans of some clubs are more tolerant of rowdy behavior at a match than others. Roughly a third of fans from prominent clubs, including Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal, said they were somewhere between extremely and somewhat tolerant of unruly behavior where football was concerned.
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Methodology and Limitations
For the first half of this study, we referenced a GOV.UK dataset containing information and statistics for all football-related arrests and banning orders for every English and Welsh league and club, both overall and for each season since 2014/15.
No statistical testing was performed, so the claims listed above are based on means alone. As such, this content is exploratory and is presented for informational purposes only.
For the second half of this study, we surveyed 1,034 English Premier League football fans on Prolific about unruly fan behavior. 52.3% of respondents were men, 46.7% were women, and 1% were nonbinary. The average age of respondents was 25.9 years with a standard deviation of 7.9 years.
The main limitation of this portion of the study is the reliance on self-report, which is faced with several issues, such as, but not limited to, attribution, exaggeration, recency bias, and telescoping.
Fair Use Statement
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